Abe Pledges Government Help to Stem Fukushima Water Leaks

Japan’s government will step in to help the operator of the wrecked Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant deal with the tons of radioactive groundwater spilling into the Pacific Ocean.

The government isn’t content to leave the matter to Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. and will draw up its own strategy to tackle the problem, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a ministerial meeting in Tokyo today.

Abe’s comments echo those of Greenpeace campaigners who called yesterday for authorities to intervene, saying Tokyo Electric, also known as Tepco, is incapable of resolving the leaks. The prime minister’s stance underscores the escalating seriousness of the matter, which has been called an emergency by officials at the nation’s nuclear regulator.

“It is an urgent problem,” Abe said. “We will not leave this to Tepco, but put together a government strategy. We will direct Tepco to make sure there is a swift and multi-faceted approach in place.”

Officials from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimated today at a briefing in Tokyo that the Fukushima facility is leaking at least 300 tons of radioactive water a day into the ocean.

Activist groups will tomorrow meet with the Nuclear Regulation Authority to urge it to shift focus from evaluating atomic plants’ safety for restart to the growing crisis of the radioactive water flowing into the sea from the Fukushima plant.

Growing Concerns

The groups include citizen activists from Fukushima, where as many as 160,000 people had to evacuate to escape airborne radiation when buildings exploded and reactors melted down at the coastal atomic station in March, 2011.

The regulator, set up in response to the nuclear disaster, has already indicated growing alarm about the water leaks. Tepco officials apologized last month for failing to publicly acknowledge sooner that the radioactive groundwater was leaking into the ocean.

The utility first suspected the water was spilling into the ocean on June 19 when it found strontium and tritium in a monitoring well at a turbine complex within the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, Tepco President Naomi Hirose said on July 26.

More funds will be made available to help stem the flow of contaminated water into the ocean, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference in Tokyo today.

Use of Resources

“I believe Tepco is doing all it can, but from the point of view of those in the disaster zone and the people of Japan, it does not seem to be progressing very fast,” he said. “The government feels it should step forward and support the management of the problem.”

Kaoru Suzuki, a spokeswoman for Tepco, had no comment on funds for dealing with radioactive water leaks.

The activist groups argue the NRA is dedicating its already slim resources to checking that applications by utilities to restart reactors comply with new safety standards, Kyoto-based organizer Green Action said in a release.

“The bulk of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s human resources is being used to examine electric utility nuclear power plant restart applications,” Green Action Director Aileen Mioko Smith said in the release. “Dealing with the Fukushima accident is back-burner at the NRA.”

The organizers of tomorrow’s meeting “are demanding that the NRA prioritize dealing with the radioactive emissions into the marine environment, and that work on restart which is taking away from NRA’s foremost mandate be suspended,” according to the statement.

‘State of Emergency’

Tepco said two weeks ago that the radiated water had been flowing into the sea at Fukushima, backtracking on previous comments that it couldn’t be confirmed. The delay earned a rebuke from the government and academics.

The NRA has since indicated increasing concern about the state of the Fukushima clean up.

Radioactive water leaks are getting out of control and “creating a state of emergency,” said Shinji Kinjo, citing comments made by NRA Chairman Shinichi Tanaka in a meeting last week. Kinjo leads a Fukushima disaster task force for the regulator.

All but two of Japan’s reactors are currently idled. The NRA, which was set up after the disaster to independently review Japan’s nuclear power, has accepted applications from three utilities for safety inspections at four separate plants.

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